Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
What is bullying? For students on the playground, it may just seem like a part of growing up; almost a rite of passage. But it’s actually an imbalance of power, just as dangerous for the bully as for the victim.
New legislation goes into effect this fall that impacts every school district in the state, mandating that they address bullying and come up with strategies to identify and curtail it.
“We’ve always had a policy in place that says bullying won’t be tolerated,” said Dr. Pat Franklin of the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, reading from her district’s policy manual. “For us, bullying occurs when a student or group of students engages in written or verbal expressions or physical conduct that occurs on school property, at a school-sponsored or related activity, or in a vehicle operated by the district that has, number one, the effect or potential effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm of such damage, or two, is sufficiently severe, persistent and pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive educational environment for the student.
“With the new legislative update, our school district has added new verbiage to include electronic expressions, or cyber-bullying.”
CFBISD has made a practice of investigating each complaint to decide whether or not bullying occurred and meting out consequences as needed.
“Now we’ve tightened our policies a lot more,” said Franklin. “We’ve set up a six-step reporting protocol for any student that feels they’ve been bullied or harassed.
“Students are also learning how to report cases where another student may be undergoing this. Whether it’s bullying or some other violent act, depression, date violence, sexual harassment; anything that could possibly be troubling the student.”
In addition, CFBISD middle school and high school students also participate in AnComm, an anonymous reporting process allowing victims to report an incident via text or email.
In Irving ISD, a similar program for reaching out anonymously for help is called ‘Talk About It’, which will go online in October.
“This is an issue that has gotten a lot of attention in the past year,” said Jose Villaseñor with Irving ISD. “We need ways to help not only the victims, but also the students who show aggressive behaviors.
“Working with them, with their parents and their teachers….it has to be a system-wide approach. That’s why we’ve adopted the campaign ‘Not In Our House – Freedom from Bullying’.”
Training sessions were conducted in late September for leadership, for trainers, counselors and administrators.
“That whole week went well,” said Villaseñor. “Everyone was excited about it.
“We also met with student representatives from each high school, members of the Superintendent’s Council. They will help with the rollout on each campus to lay the foundation; talking about what they’re seeing. They were very receptive and shared some great information with us.”
The final step was to engage students’ families. Parent meetings were held Sep. 27 throughout schools in the district to introduce the program (in both English and Spanish) via a simulcast presented by bully specialist Paul Coughlin. The speaker followed with action steps for parents who want to know more about bullying behaviors and how to intervene on their children’s behalf.
“We are bringing consistency to our treatment of bullying,” said Villaseñor. “As trained professionals, maybe we can see and understand that a student is suffering, but what about bus drivers or custodians? They also need to recognize these behaviors and bring it to someone’s attention so we can investigate.
“We want to work with all students to learn both sides of the story. This campaign should also change the climate of how students view social interactions. We want to present an alternative to aggressive behaviors, and to learn why a student is behaving this way.
“Part of our curriculum is based on Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s work, ‘Ascent to Goodness’. He’s done a lot of research on why people behave badly.
“One idea we hope to pursue is that you substitute new behaviors, such as random acts of kindness.
“Because we know this, too - the person who acts as the bully is also in pain.”